Monday, January 29, 2007

To Life!

Today at the gym I watched a man, probably in his eighties, dance from one end of the weight room to the other while listening to his Walkman. I have no idea what he was listening to, but he caught my eye, along with the eye of everybody else in the room. One woman came very close to dancing with him.

I don't have a comment per se. I just think that a moment like that, so immersed in the joy of life, deserves to be chronicled. I hope that if I reach my eighties, somebody will be as moved by me as I was by him.

So we don't get too teary, I invite you to guess what he was listening to. I'm going with "The Weight" by The Band.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

If I Had a Hundred Dollars . . .

My friend Al Hsu tagged me with an intriguing question, something along the lines of:

If I had a hundred bucks free and clear, how would I use it redemptively?

It's a tempting thought: that's something like twenty-five lattes, four hundred chances to rescue a fair maiden from Donkey Kong, four hundred shaves and haircuts (assuming, of course, that a shave + a haircut = two bits). But none of those microenterprises is particularly redemptive. So I've got to dig a little deeper.

Given my initial gut reaction, my first reasoned response is to get rid of the money as quickly as possible. Hand it over to Habitat for Humanity, or Doctors Without Borders, or the Presbyterian Church (USA). I know myself well enough to know that money meant for a redemptive purpose very easily becomes money I will use now for my own purposes and one day replace with money to be used for a redemptive purpose. The sooner I relieve myself of the burden of redemptive money, therefore, the better.

But it's also far too easy to buy myself out of the problems that plague the world around me, to say "Here's a hundred bucks. Now leave me alone while I tend to my blog." So I'm most inclined to use the money to facilitate a meaningful encounter between myself and a world in need. I heard the other day about a church in Oregon that occasionally takes offerings of "socks and smokes," which are the two most frequent requests from homeless people in their area. People from the church then hand out socks and smokes indiscriminately, leading them into experiences of solidarity with area homeless, and ultimately binding the destinies of the church and the homeless together.

Since the death of Pope John Paul II, I've been thinking a lot about solidarity, a political movement in his home country of Poland and a theological theme of his for the late-twentieth century. A hundred bucks is a small price to pay for an expression of solidarity with people it's otherwise too easy for me to ignore. So I think at this point I'd have to say that if I had a hundred dollars, I'd blow it all on socks and cigarettes.

OK, who to tag. I'll say Carolyn (like "Bono"), Mr. Steve and the Sarcastic Lutheran.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Spam of the Day

From my new best friend Russo. Surprisingly, the message was marked "BULK."
It's time to refill Kenya.

I'll let you decide what we're going to refill Kenya with. Spam, perhaps?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Post of the Day

From the sarcastic Lutheran, a line in the sand drawn between earthy spirituality and faux spirituality. I've often wondered if stand-up comedians are the preachers of a post-Christian Christendom; here's yet another prophetic utterance from George Carlin to add to the argument.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Great Art of Blogging

This morning I ran across this little ditty from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the great minds of the twentieth century, who spent the last years of his life in prison for his opposition to the Nazi German government during World War II:
We must keep on trying to find our way
through the petty thoughts that irritate us,
to the great thoughts that strengthen us."
This, my friends, is why I blog, whether I realize it or not. I think it's fair to say that I, jaded GenXer that I am, have mastered the art of petty thoughts. But the great art of blogging is, to paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, to air out my self-righteous self-satisfaction and see more clearly the great art of the world around me. I'm reminded of a passage from the biblical book of Lamentations, which is fancy talk for "a profound sense of irritation":

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning.

So, what's irritating you today? What's keeping you going?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

24 Red Shirts

Fair warning: If you read this but have not watched the first four hours of season six of 24, you are going to be very, very mad at me. So go somewhere else till you're good and ready. I recommend listening to Lin Brehmer's "Why We Love Jack Bauer" at WXRT.com. You could easily spend four hours listening to Lin be brilliant; when you're caught up with 24, y'all come back now.

OK, last chance. Leave now or be forever spoiled.

OK. Here's my current thinking on 24, which I freely admit upfront is my favorite show on television, perhaps in the history of television. That being said, I've noticed a disconcerting trend on the show. I'd like to see it ended, or I'd like to be convinced that I'm wrong, because I'd like to not think the show has such an inherent flaw. My concern is that to be African American in the 24 universe is to be expendable.

Over the past several seasons I have had a mild man-crush on Curtis, the strong, silent counter-terrorist field agent and torture expert, but I've often thought he's been shamefully underdeveloped. Perhaps, I've reasoned, that's simply the way of strong, silent characters: until they're good and ready to do something remarkable, they prefer not to draw attention to themselves. So I've been patient, waiting for Curtis's golden moment. And last night, Jack Bauer shot Curtis through the throat.

I warned you I'd ruin it!

Curtis is only the latest African American character on 24 whose life has been cut short. The late President David Palmer, his wife the delightfully diabolical Sherri Palmer, current President Wayne Palmer's former lover and her shrewdly dangerous husband--all were cut down in their prime--none of them accidentally, all of them violently. If I were President Wayne Palmer, I would watch my back and read my contract very carefully.

These, of course, are not the only characters to have died abruptly on the show. From the first season 24 has dared to kill the characters we've loved the most, no matter how central they were to the plot. Even Jack himself has died on the show--albeit only for a minute.

And it's not that 24 has presented African Americans in demeaning ways. The show has featured two African American presidents, and when Jack died I even thought that Curtis could very effectively take his place as the show's central character. But as a demographic, African Americans have suffered on the show far more than Anglo-Americans. I'd argue that even Arabs, who are regularly put forth as both the enemies and the persecuted minority of the show, have suffered less than the show's African American population. What good is it to so intentionally portray ethnic groups in a positive light if you keep indiscriminately killing off the members of that group?

Maybe this is just how I mourn the deaths of characters I've grown so attached to. But in a show that regularly features the stark reality of senseless violence and its fruits, people will continue to die. And the creators of the show are dangerously close to falling into the classic error of Star Trek: you can tell who's going to die by the color of their shirt. In the case of 24, the classic error is made more tragic by the blind spot they've allowed into their creative process.

Again, I'm very prepared to be convinced that I'm wrong.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Urbanathon



I was the Dome Book of the Day manager at the Urbana 06 Student Missions Convention, where 22,000 students came to be challenged by the needs of the world. I came to sell them books. I got to cart around this walkie-talkie as a symbol of my authority. I like the photo, taken by my friend Elaina Whittenhall; it's kind of in your face. Urbana was exhausting; I found myself frequently descending into resentment for having to work so hard. I was put in my place by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned by the Nazis for his convictions during World War II and wrestled with how much pity to allow himself and how much responsibility he still bore to his convictions:

The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation is to live.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bawdy Humor Virus of the Day

Here's a news bite from Relevant.com:
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has released a statement
that said there is no danger from a natural gas odor that is being reported in
Manhattan. Residents have been smelling the strange odor all morning, which is
apparently from a minor gas leak. "We are waiting for the gas to pass," the
mayor said. Yes, that is an exact quote

Thank God for Michael Bloomberg, who today gives us a chance to play our very own version of "Overheard in New York." I beg you, I beseech you, I implore you to take this joke in the waiting wherever your juvenile sense of humor allows you to go. Here's a couple entries from me to prime your pump:
  • The plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty has been updated to read as follows: "Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and tell them to pull my finger."
  • "If I can break wind there, I'll break it anywhere!"

Friday, January 05, 2007

Lew Smedes had a way with words. This line seems particularly apropos in the Christmas season which, if you follow the church calendar, we're leaving behind this weekend:
Some people give gifts to people the way a fisherman offers a fly to a trout.

My most notorious fly-gift was from a coworker, who used my birthday as an excuse to torment me and the rest of my company with a CD of Pat Boone singing the heavy metal hits of the 1980s. Love, the metal community recognized intuitively, hurts.

Fortunately, most of my gifts come with no strings attached. So, what'd you get for Christmas?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Who You Callin' Strangely Dim?

Still sorting through my Urbana experience, still typing incomplete sentences. While you wait for me to be pithy and profound, check out Strangely Dim, where my friend Lisa Rieck has joined me as a blogger for InterVarsity Press. She's pithy, she's profound, and she can form complete thoughts much quicker than I. Can.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Take a Great Song and Make It Better

I know I should be posting something spiritually reflective about my time at the 2006 Urbana Student Missions Convention, but right now I'm distracted by what may well be my favorite Christmas gift this season. The thing is, it was a gift that my wife got.

Perhaps you've heard of the Beatles, the single-most important band in the history of rock music. They broke up in 1970, and only two of them are still living, but every couple of years they reassert themselves as possibly the best band ever. In recent years they've released a three-volume anthology of rare recordings that revealed the craft of their songwriting, and they've licensed their songs for repurposing by the best and brightest contemporary artists in films such as I Am Sam. But in 2006 they outdid themselves by approving a Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show built around their music. I haven't seen the show, but thanks to the largesse of my lovely wife, I've now heard the soundtrack, and it may well be the thing that finally gets me to Vegas.

On the surface of things you wouldn't expect anything particularly novel out of this CD. It appears to be a relatively standard mix of Beatles songs throughout their near-decade of recording. But then you put it in the player, and you're shocked out of your anticipated singalong adventure when the Beatles wait an extra two or three beats between singing "Because the world is round, it turns me on" and the repeat: "Because the world is round." All the instrumentation is mixed out of the vocal track, and we're left with a haunting intro that gradually gives way to an incredibly potent mashup of seemingly random Beatles samples turning "Get Back" into a musical car chase.

The music on "The Beatles 'Love'" disk is infused with a new energy and poignancy that shows the debt that today's most promising musicians owe these guys and defines longevity and timelessness by example. Songs that were innovative in their day are made even more innovative by the respectful, visionary efforts of producer George Martin and his son Giles. If you know the Beatles' music, download "Because" and "Gnik Nus"--an experiment in backmasking that reveals a great new melody. If you don't know the Beatles music well, download the tout sweet "Get Back" and "Lady Madonna," which borrows from "Hey Bulldog" to add a new grittiness to one of Paul McCartney's funkiest songs.

OK. Next time I'll post something spiritual. I promise.